Integration as Force Multiplier for Better Decisions and Faster Execution

By Matthias Ledwon, Industry Executive Advisor for the Department of Defense, SAP

Matthias served for ten years as an officer in the German Federal Armed Forces. Since, he has worked at IDS Scheer and SAP America leading business transformation projects for multiple defense organizations. As Industry Executive Advisor, he continues to support SAP’s US Defense customers and partners.

Force management: it’s the backbone of any defense organization – including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). In peace time and on operations, commanders and force planners across the services work hand in glove to determine the actual makeup of military units top to bottom. Force planners are making mission-critical decisions every day in support of commanders up and down the ranks. Decisions impacting the personnel, training, and equipment required to support unit capabilities, and the current mission in accordance with military and federal guidelines.

What’s more, force planners also have to prepare for the future, anticipating new threats and emerging requirements to ensure that commanders will have the equipment, personnel, and training they need in a rapidly changing world. In this two-part series on force management at the DoD, I argue that running a centralized ERP solution (well-integrated systems around a core ERP with out-of-the-box, proven force management capabilities, that share data and connect processes enterprise wide) delivers the timely, reliable, and in-context data decision makers need. With all transactional events executed under a single ERP system, they are instantly visible and compliant across functional areas.

The enterprise-level, core ERP is mission critical for any large organization that must manage constant, complex change and disruption. For planners and decision makers in commercial organizations, these changes and disruptions are largely limited to management changes and restructuring often related to mergers and acquisitions, divestures, or changes to the business model. However, for military planners and decision makers, particularly service force planners and commanders across the DoD – global force management is in fact a daily exercise in complex change management, shifting requirements, and anything but a straightforward process.

Disconnected systems inhibit data trust and facilitate data latency

In the DoD itself, and across every service branch, force planners and commanders have to rely on a lot of different systems to execute their force management responsibilities. The Army uses at least 12 different systems to manage its forces. Add all the logistics, human resources, and financial systems that need to be updated as well, and the amount of data interfaces multiplies rapidly.

The Army recognizes the challenge, and in a statement put out last year, their message is blunt:

“The Army’s current ad hoc management of organizational and force structure master data requires excessive manual labor and is not enabling accurate and timely understanding of the Army forces necessary for Army and Defense senior leaders to make effective decisions.”

The key takeaway? Decision-making of the most senior levels at the DoD is negatively impacted because they can’t trust their data.

How many tanks? Where are they? Are they mission ready?

Unfortunately for force planners, item managers, or commanders across the DoD, getting answers to these basic questions does not happen immediately. For example, determining the number of Abrams tanks can take days or weeks because so many different systems need to be consulted and reconciled against each other. By the time leadership gets an answer, the underlying data has changed. Tanks that were available might have moved out of depot and into field, others may have gone back to maintenance for service, or are in transit.

The higher you go in the command structure, the worse the problem gets. The unit, battalion, or brigade commander can see what they have, its condition, and if it is mission capable using the Army’s tactical logistics system (running SAP ERP by the way). However, higher up many more systems come into play – and before finally being consolidated in Defense Readiness Reporting Systems – data gets murkier and less reliable.

Answers to simple questions often reside in too many systems

Take the perspective of a Service-wide item manager of a weapon system, getting answers to even basic questions requires data from multiple logistics systems. Weapon systems are not only deployed to tactical units, at a depot, or at an external OEM’s location, they can also be in transit between locations and systems. Typically, weeks of manual work is required to reconcile the different system data and resolve errors, and even then, the data can still be unreliable.

The level of complexity only increases for weapon systems which are distributed across several service branches. How many HMMWVs in the Army? In the Air Force? In the Navy? Or at DLA? Overlay that with which ones are fully mission capable, and which ones are non-mission capable. Are they waiting for spare parts or for maintenance work to be done? That can double the number of systems required for look up because inventory and maintenance systems are often separate and not well integrated.

DoD’s data-centric approach increases customization and fragmentation

The DoD’s rigorous, highly specific requirements for systems have led to an over-reliance on custom solutions and specialized workflows connected to existing systems, with a lot of time and effort spent making everything work together. This trend continues today. The Army is currently looking for a new force management solution on top of a huge data lake with a custom transactional system and workflow, and other services are looking to custom force management solutions as well.

Customization and the fragmentation of data and system landscapes across the DoD is the result of these largely data-centric approaches to force management and other core DoD functions. At SAP, we support a proven business process–centric approach, where data is viewed as an outcome of those workflows and not the other way around.

A single ERP approach proven in defense forces worldwide

Intelligent ERP solutions from SAP, including the SAP S/4HANA Defense & Security solution, combine decades of experience in integrated, connected business process excellence with innovation experience in the DoD and other leading Defense organizations around the world. It’s a standardized, yet open, military-proven solution that eliminates the need for a custom-developed solution. And even where non-standard solutions are required, the SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) can extend the SAP solution’s standard core.

Today, over 50 defense organizations are running SAP solutions. They include many Defense Ministries of NATO and allied forces. Instead of running multiple custom solutions across their respective ministry and service branches, they are using a single ERP solution from SAP in the core – and they benefit greatly from a one system approach. In a single, intelligent solution, planners and commanders can trust the data and efficiently work with it (using different states like future/planned, future/released, currently active etc.). And every transaction by planners and commanders is automatically updated in all impacted lines of business including finance, logistics, HR, and more.

In Part 2 of this series on force management at DoD, we’ll look at how a single-ERP approach empowers everyone in the force management decision chain with more powerful tools and real-time insight they can trust. They can execute missions and sustainment operations with greater speed, agility, and cost effectiveness. Read more here.


SAP has enjoyed an extensive relationship supporting multiple Defense Departments and Ministries across the globe. We do so alongside strategic partners including Carahsoft Technology Corp. - The Trusted Government IT Solutions Provider®. As SAP’s largest Public Sector reseller, GSA Schedule 70 and ESI BPA holder, Carahsoft delivers SAP Solutions supporting all DoD customers as they modernize and improve their asset management and mission readiness capabilities.